We often remember our past presidents and their times in office by the indelible images they made, or by the powerful words they spoke in ringing voices — or in grudging denials. In his case, President Aquino may yet be remembered as well by the nebulous ways of numbers.
For beginners, there is the stunning number of votes he received (15.2 million) in his breakthrough poll victory in 2010.
But there are numbers that have also come to haunt his still evolving term in office.
There is, for example, 18, the percentage representing the precipitous drop in his net approval rating, from +64 percent in November 2010 to +46 percent in June 2011 — although last September it was back to +56 percent (as recorded by the Social Weather Stations or SWS), a sign that he still enjoyed the trust of his constituency. And there is 19, the number of flag-draped caskets of soldiers tragically killed in one day of fighting in Al-Barka, Basilan.
Then the numbers on hunger. The latest SWS survey has revealed that the incidence of hunger, that most frightening of the country’s societal revenants, has risen again. The Third Quarter 2011 Social Weather Survey, done in September, shows that a staggering 21.5 percent or one in every five Filipino families has gone without food at one point or another over the last three months. This registered “an upward bounce from 15.1 last June,” SWS’ Mahar Mangahas stated in his column yesterday. The findings of the June survey on hunger was very encouraging for the Aquino administration. “The June 2011 rate had fallen from 20.5 in March 2011,” and was… a bounce originally from 15.9 two quarters earlier in September 2010,” he said.
“Based on the SWS data, the hunger statistic is the worst so far for the Aquino government but is still below the record 24 percent in December 2009 during the previous administration,” the Inquirer reported on Friday. It was as well noted that while hunger incidence is down in Mindanao (13 percent from 21.7 percent in June) and the Visayas (15.3 percent from 21 percent), it is up in Metro Manila (23 percent from 13 percent—that is, by 10 percentage points) and the rest of Luzon (28.3 percent from 9.7 percent—that is, by 18.6 percentage points).
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman attributed the “bounce” to typhoons and fuel price increases. “The bouncing reveals the volatility of hunger,” Mangahas said.
Indeed, hunger is not a new problem. Neither is it a problem exclusive to Mr. Aquino’s presidency. In fact, it is a problem that has bedeviled presidents for decades.
In its quarterly hunger surveys, SWS classifies the level of hunger into “moderate” and “severe.” Moderate for a hunger experience of “only once,” “a few times,” or “a few unstated frequencies” in the past three months. Severe for a hunger experience of “often” or “always.” Moderate or severe, in reality, they translate into actual Filipino families who, at one point or another, had nothing to eat. The fact is, moderate or severe, hunger is hunger whichever way you look at it. Either you are eating regularly, or you are not, even if you would want to.
So what does the latest SWS survey tell us? That beyond the distraction of unwanted, unpleasant headlines, hunger, one of the ugliest offsprings of poverty, still stalks and haunts the land. And didn’t President Aquino in his presidential campaign make a vow that waging war on poverty would be one of his priorities? To be sure, this would be one all-out war that nobody will dare to oppose.
But it would not be easy to win either, and our people understand this all too well. And they surely would not fault President Aquino and his administration—indeed, Congress and local officials, business leaders and civil society, and everybody who has the means—if they join hands and marshal public and private resources to combat an enemy that knows no ideology or gender and age.
It is time to refocus on those election promises. Protect the people and educate them, but first and foremost, feed them.
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